Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lenten Reading February 28

Mark 1: 40-45

Leprosy was a living death for anyone who had it. While the notion of contagious diseases was still a few centuries away, people had an inkling that leprosy could be spread person-to-person. So, people afflicted with the disease were kept far from everyone else. Their families abandoned them. They were forced to wear bells around their necks and cry out to everyone within earshot, “Unclean! Unclean!”

So, for Jesus to heal this man with leprosy was not just an act healing, but a social act as well. After the man had been checked over by the priests, he didn’t have to wear the bell or warn anyone that he was coming. He could go back to his family and resume his job. He got his life back again.

But the weird thing about this passage is that Jesus tells him “not to tell anything to anyone” about what happened. A command, which, of course, the man ignored. “He began to proclaim it freely,” Mark tells us.

Some theologians call this the “messianic secret.” It’s hard to say why Jesus would give this command. One theory is that Jesus didn’t want it getting around that he was taking the place of the temple (a big theme in Jesus’ ministry, as we’ll later see). Where temple sacrifices only made people “seen” to be made clean, Jesus actually made them clean. He was taking God’s healing beyond ritual and bringing everyone on board. Even social outcasts like lepers.

Lenten Reading February 27

Mark 1:21-39

In this passage Jesus begins his ministry in earnest, hitting the ground running. The first miracle Mark records is Jesus casting out an unclean spirit. Some think that this is Mark’s way of showing that Jesus was joining in the struggle against the powers of evil and destruction, and winning a victory over it. This could be why Jesus was so popular with people right from he beginning. Finally there was someone who had authority over the evil that haunted their world and took over their lives. They were no longer held captive to the destructive forces that dominated. Jesus was giving them back their lives.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gospel of Mark Reading Schedule

Gospel of Mark
Lent 2009
Daily Readings

Feb 26; Ch. 1: 1-20
Feb 27: Ch 1: 21-39
Feb 28: Ch 1: 40-45

March 2 Ch 2: 1-12
March 3 Ch 2: 13-22
March 4: Ch 2: 23-28
March 5: Ch 3: 1-12
March 6: Ch 3: 13- 19
March 7: Ch 3: 20-31

March 9: Ch 4: 1- 25
March 10: Ch 4: 26- 41
March 11 Ch 5: 1-13
March 12 Ch 5:14-43
March 13 Ch 6: 1-13
March 14 Ch 6: 14-29

March 16 Ch 6: 30-56
March 17 Ch 7: 1-30
March 18: Ch 7: 31-37
March 19: Ch 8: 1- 13
March 20 Ch 8: 14-26
March 21 Ch 8: 27-38

March 23 Ch 9: 1-8
March 24 Ch 9: 9-32
March 25 Ch 9: 33-37
March 26 Ch 9: 42-50
March 27 Ch 10: 1-12
March 28 Ch 10: 13-31

March 30 Ch 10: 32-52
March 31 Ch 11: 1-33
April 1 Ch 12: 1-27
April 2 Ch 12: 28-44
April 3 Ch 13: 1-31
April 4 Ch 14: 1-26

April 6 Ch 14: 26-72
April 7 Ch 15: 1- 21
April 8 Ch 15: 21-33
April 9 Ch 15: 33-47

April 12: Ch 16

Lenten Reading Feb 26 Mark 1: 1-20

One of my goals for the congregation is for us to read the bible together. And those who stumble upon this humble blog are invited to join in. I'll be providing daily commentaries on what we're reading to help us better understand Mark's message of Jesus.

Here's today's offering:

One thing you’ll notice about Mark’s gospel is that no one ever sits still. I see Mark as the ADHD gospel, no one concentrates on anything for more a minute.

Right out of the gate, we’re in the middle of the action. No narrative set up, no introduction of characters, no mood or environment. Just “Bang!” “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Just a short sentence fragment of a thesis statement and we’re hearing about John the Baptist as foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

But before we get ahead of ourselves we need to back up a bit an unpack the first sentence, specifically, the word “gospel” or “good news.” The Greek word gospel is euangelion, which had deep political resonances. As New Testament theologian NT Wright says,

“[The idea of gospel] had two principle meanings for first century Jews. First, with roots in Isaiah, it meant the news of [God’s] long-awaited victory over evil and rescue of his people. Second it was used in the Roman world for the ascension or birthday of the emperor. Since for Jesus and Paul the announcement of God’s inbreaking kingdom was both the fulfillment of prophecy and a challenge to the world’s present rulers, ‘gospel’ became an important shorthand for both the message of Jesus himself and the [message of the apostles] about him...the four ‘gospels’ tell the story of Jesus in such a way as to bring out both these aspects” (NT Wright, Mark for Everyone p.231)

In the first 20 verses of Mark we have no less than five important events occurring: The introduction of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ temptation in the desert, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the calling of the first disciples. Mark packs a lot into a short space!

These 20 verses make up the beginning of what Mark is trying to do with his gospel, namely, set up the idea that someone new has happened/is happening in Jesus.

John announced the arrival of the Messiah, but the world did not end.

John called the world to repentance, but Jesus is our repentance.

Jesus was tempted by the powers of this world but resisted and overcame the world’s temptation.

Jesus began to preach the new world that had arrived in him and began to recruit people into that new world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday Sermon

I heard an interview recently with a scientist who said that we, everyone and everything, are made up of dust. Ancient dust. Dust from stars that have long ago disappeared. From planets long since destroyed. Dust from people whose names only a handful of folks would have known. And that our dust is and will be the building blocks of future creations.

I found that idea fascinating, if also a little humbling. I like to think of myself as unique, a specific, individual creature. I was created out of the woman who bore me, and am a contemporary creation. I look forward, not backward. My flesh and blood is a lively blast of chemical reactions. My value to the world comes from what I do, what I contribute. Not from the raw material that isn’t unique to me, or that I have little control over.

As much as I would like the opposite to be true, maybe the scientist is right. I know the bible would agree with her. I am dust, and to dust I will return. The same goes for you.

I don’t know about you but my dustiness is not something that I like to dwell on. But I find that I have to. In my job I’m always getting peoples’ dust on me. Sometimes the air is so thick with dust that my lungs can’t expand and contract like their supposed to.

Death - dustiness - is a big part of my job. And it’s not only...(whole thing here)

Random musing on Ash Wednesday

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Not terribly hopeful, is it? As I get older those words taken on more meaning, more than a simple ritual to remind me of my mortality. Each funeral I preside over, each dying hand I hold, each prayer for a peaceful holy death, adds up in my psyche.

Today a colleague passed away. He was in town for a special event and collapsed of a heart attack. It took six agonizing days for him to die. But his death was peaceful. Well, as peaceful as death can be. Each death brings us full circle in the life-dust cycle.

I read somewhere that I doctor called each death an act of violence. I don’t know if I agree, but it does give me something to think about. If death is a violent intrusion than it’s an inevitable intrusion.

Some preachers try to lighten death’s load, glossing over the pain. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return,” they say, but then they add, “so trust in the Lord.” That’s like finishing a Good Friday service with a hearty “Christ is Risen!”

I think that misses the point. Ash Wednesday is all about the existential crisis that death provokes. Ash Wednesday confronts us with our inevitable dustiness, it pours frigid h20 on our delusions of immortality, it demands that we acknowledge our weakness and fragility. If there is one day in the church year where feeling afraid of death and abandoned by God is acknowledged and affirmed, it’s Ash Wednesday.

Remembering that we are dust and to dust we will return doesn’t ignore our trust in God, but remembers that trust isn’t always easy. And it shouldn’t be. Trust is a gift at the moment of despair. It’s a gift because we can’t really trust God on our own. In fact, trusting God is something that can only be a gift because we fickle human beings don’t really know what it means to trust. At least not in the ways God wants us to and we need to.

Some people trust, others simply cannot summon the strength. To some God give the gift of trust. To others, God doesn’t. I don’t know what that says about God, but I do know what that says about us. It says that we are dust and to dust we will return.

Despite our best efforts.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sermon: Transfiguration

I have a confession to make. If my preaching professor heard or read my sermons he’d take me into his office and give me a good theological spanking. I seem to have this nasty habit of breaking one of his cardinal rules of preaching: “Never tell stories about yourself,” he said over and over again.

He called personal stories the “atom bomb” of preaching. Meaning that everything else in the sermon evaporates into a cloud of dust while the story stays standing. We end up pointing to ourselves instead of Jesus, he would say.

He didn’t just pull this rule out of his nose. He had biblical justification for it. He would open the bible to today’s second lesson and read, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

True enough. But hey, it warms this preacher’s heart that people remember SOMETHING after they leave.

But, of course, Paul is right. My job is to point to Jesus, not myself. But there are times when even Paul broke the good professor’s rule.

Take this passage from today. I think Paul’s being...(whole thing here)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Face, meet floor.

Since folks have been asking, yes, I did have a fainting episode on Monday night. In public. Very embarrassing.

Since the wife and kids are away I decided to go to a local Public House for a beer and to watch the Senators beat the Predators 2-0. Upon finishing my second and final beer, the dregs at the bottom of the glass went down the wrong tube and I started to cough. And cough. And cough.

Figuring I was making a spectacle of myself, I made my way to the bathroom. (This is where things get hazy). Apparently, I walked into the wall and hit the floor like a bag of bricks. I say “apparently” because I don’t remember a thing. I just remember getting off my chair.

When I woke up, some guy was helping me into a chair and feeding me a glass of water. My head cleared and I settled my tab, then made my way home.

I called the Health Link (since I’ve never fainted before) and the kindly nurse on the other end of the phone figured that my coughing restricted blood flow to my head, causing me to faint.

Made sense.

But since I was still woozy the next morning I called the doctor. After an hour-and-a-half of examination the doctor confirmed what the nurse suspected, but told me to come back if it happens again. I don't think it will.

I feel fine. No damage done. But my knees, wrist, and ego are a little sore.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sermon: Epiphany 6 - Year B

“The hardest part has been the loneliness,” he told his pastor.

“You mean the loneliness of not going to work and seeing people?” his pastor asked.

“No, the loneliness of friends avoiding me, people not coming to see me any more,” he replied.

“Why would they do that?” asked his pastor.

“I’m not sure,” the man responded, “I think it’s because they think they’ll catch what I have. They’re worried cancer is contagious.”

This is the way the man in today’s gospel had been treated. He is a leper, and as a leper he was a very sick man. Leprosy is one of the few diseases mentioned by name in the bible. Even before they had the concept of contagious diseases, leprosy was considered contagious.

When I was a boy and I...(whole thing here)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My 2008 report to the congregation

2008 started with a tremendous sense of optimism that God was opening a new chapter in our history as it looked like Good Shepherd would be moving into a new building.

However, when it became apparent that our offer to purchase the Our Lady of Assumption Church building would be rejected and that we would be staying in our present facility for the foreseeable future I sensed a palpable feeling of relief within the congregation.

While I’m sure that the congregation would have honoured the commitment to finance the new building, and its true that we would have used the space to build our ministry, I got the impression that people thought such an amount of money needed could be put to better use. While we would have grown into the new building, most of our energy would have been toward paying the mortgage, at the expense of our mission.

What the whole process said to me was that we, as a congregation, are ambivalent about our mission to the world. While a move would have presented us with a challenge (a challenge we would, no doubt have met), I wonder if the relief we felt was not simply financial, but missional. Having such a large space to ourselves would have pushed us to justify our building’s size. So, it would have been the building that drove our mission rather than listening to the world’s needs and God’s voice asking us to respond.

Last year, when Good Shepherd decided to move to one Sunday morning service, whether we realized it or not, it was a tacit decision NOT to grow. Most church growth theorists note that, when a church worship space reaches 80 percent full, attendance will either plateau or decline. Good Shepherd has plateaued, simply because there is no room for new people. And I worry that the plateau will lead to decline simply because of the size of our sanctuary.

While I understand the reasoning behind the decision to go to one service: one service uses fewer resources and creates a greater sense of community among the congregation. Plus, it feels good worshiping in a full church. And I like being able to sleep in on Sundays if I want to.

However, we need to be aware of the consequences such a move has made to our future.

Visitors to the church arrive at just as worship is starting or shortly thereafter, and are often forced to sit at the front of the church. And one Sunday, some visitors were the first ones at Holy Communion because of they were sat in the second row, piano side.

So, I propose a two-pronged approach.

1) Adding a midweek service. We start our Lenten services at Ash Wednesday, but I propose continuing after Easter with a Tuesday evening service. This service was serve two functions i) Provide worship opportunity for current Good Shepherd members and friends who cannot otherwise attend worship, and ii) Be an outreach service for people not currently connected to a church or the faith.

I see this service as an informal, contemplative worship experience. Building on the value of faithful creativity that informs our Sunday morning gatherings, this midweek service will explore broader ways of worshipping, bringing people into God’s presence.

2) Start a new congregation. Many church growth studies say that the fastest growing churches are new congregations. Newer and smaller churches are stronger in nurturing Christian growth and evangelism.

I see our ChristCare Small Group Ministry playing a key role in this new congregation, as the chief expression of church would be the small group, with the whole congregation gathering in worship, fellowship, and learning, once a month. 

As you may recall, ChristCare Small Group Ministry rests on four pillars:

i) Community and Care

ii) Prayer and Worship

iii) Biblical Equipping

iv) Missional Service

Each ChristCare group integrates these four ministry areas, creating a holistic process through which to make disciples of Jesus. 

Although ChristCare groups can be as large as 14 people, I encourage our Christcare leaders to keep the number under 12. These ChristCare groups would be primarily evangelistic, bringing people into the faith through small, relational, Christian experiences. 

This model of new church development keeps costs down while maximizing missional effectiveness. It also marks a sea change in how people view and experience church. As churches are declining and resources limited, many Christians are refocussing their priorities away from creating institutions and toward vibrant Jesus centred communities. 

Also, a church model focused primarily on the small group experience helps people grow more fully as followers of Jesus.

Education and Growth

Also, I’d like to make 2009 a year of learning our Lutheran tradition. Last Fall, I gave a short sermon series called “Living as Lutherans.” I’ll be continuing the series intermittently over the next year. I’ll be publishing the sermons both on our website as well as providing short articles on central Lutheran theological themes for circulation.

Furthermore, I’d like us to read the bible together. Starting in Lent, I’ll assemble a daily series of bible readings from the Gospel of Mark for the congregation to read at home. Along with this I’ll be providing some commentary on the Mark readings to help guide the readings.

Along with the daily readings, I encourage each board, committee, group, gathering, etc, to include a learning component. Either a book study, a video, speaker, or whatever will help you grow in faithful knowledge.

And I’ll be learning right along side of you. As many of you know I’ve started a program at Athabasca University, a Master of Arts Integrated Studies (MAIS), in which

I’ll have a dual focus: Work, Organization, and Leadership, and Community Studies. My goals for the degree include thinking through how to strengthen the congregation as a community, and reflect on my role as a congregational leader in a changing church and cultural context.

Another way of thinking about what I see for 2009 is “Back to Basics,” meaning refocussing on what we’re called to do and be as Christians: to make stronger disciples of Jesus. Those “basics” can be outlined as the ChristCare four pillars.

We have challenges laying at our feet, challenges that require creativity to overcome, trusting that the God who calls us into mission in this time and place will give us the strength and faithfulness to carry out God’s sacred mandate. These are interesting times to be the church. May we be found faithful as we move forward in helping people grow into who God wants them to be.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Please, someone open a window!

No sermon this week. I can't wipe the stink off of it. It's still smelling up the church.

Maybe next week.